The Takana forum claims Rabbi Mordechai Elon sexually exploited his students, but did not go into detail about the suspicions against him. The rabbi himself has said this was nothing more than a "blood libel" but did not bother to deny the allegations. Confused?
A poll commissioned by Ynet and the Yesodot Center for Torah and Democracy reveals that most of the public believes the complainants' version of events and believes that Rabbi Elon did have forbidden sexual contact with them. Most of the public also showed positive sentiments towards the body that handled the affair.
The survey was conducted by the Panels Research Institute among 510 respondents made up of a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel with a maximum sampling error of ± 4.4%.
The first question asked by the surveyors was: "Today, some time after the Rabbi Motty Elon affair came to surface, do you or do you not believe the complaints and suspicions published by the Takana forum against the rabbi?"
Fifty-one percent of the respondents said they very much believe the complaints and suspicions against the rabbi, since Takana is a "very respectable forum". Twenty-four percent of the respondents said they did not have enough information about the accusations to form an opinion, 11% refused to believe the claims and said the affair was an internal "strife between the rabbis," and the rest of the respondents said they are not familiar enough with the affair.
Among secular, traditional and religious Jews the most common response was "very much believe" the allegations – 56%, 44% and 46% respectively. Meanwhile, among the ultra-Orthodox population 31% said they have no opinion on the matter and another 31% said they are not familiar with the affair.
Bright side: Rabbi paid the price
And what does the public think of the forum that dealt with the complaints? Fifty-one percent of the respondents agree with Takana's conduct, 24% side with the forum only as the "lesser evil", which is preferable to whitewashing the issue and remaining silent. Twenty-five percent said they believe there is no justification for the forum's handling of the affair, since any such case should be directed to the relevant professional bodies on behalf of the State.
A breakdown according to levels of religious observance shows that 50% of the haredim support the Takana forum and 12% believe it is the lesser of two evils. Sixty-six percent of religious Jews said they believe the forum is necessary and 56% of traditional Jews and 47% of the secular public gave the same answer.
After soul searching, what is the most important lesson that the religious society must learn from the affair? Forty percent recommend setting clear boundaries between a rabbi and his students, 27% call for more scrutiny against rabbis, another 27% suggest rabbis not be allowed to replace professionals in dealing with matters that require "counseling", and 6% believe the main lesson to be learned is to "settle such affairs in a manner in which they do not become know to the public and lead to blasphemy."
A closer look at the poll's results shows that secular, traditional and religious Jews prefer the need to set clear boundaries between a rabbi and his students – 38%, 43% and 45% respectively, whereas 44% of the haredi respondents give top priority to settling the affair quietly, "in the house."
In sum, can a bright side be found in this affair? Forty-one percent of the respondents said that "contrary to past cases, the complaints where not whitewashed, and the rabbi paid the price despite his status."
Twenty-seven percent saw hope in the unity rabbis of different positions in the Takana forum showed in their speaking out against the acts, and 3% praised the manner in which the complaints were handled and concealed over the years. On the other hand, 29% of the respondents said there is no upside to Rabbi Elon's sexual exploitation affair.
Forty-six percent of seculars and 35% of traditional Jews mainly noted as commendable the fact that the issue was not covered up and that the rabbi paid a heavy price for his actions. Meanwhile, 29% of religious respondents considered this a bright side to the affair and 30% were more impressed with the unity demonstrated by the forum's rabbis. The ultra-Orthodox respondents failed to see a praiseworthy aspect to the affair.
'Set rules of right and wrong'
Yesodot Director Shoshi Becker said of the survey's findings: "Rabbis very often deal with intimate matters but the religious public has not set clear boundaries or rules of what is right and wrong like those set by psychologists who face similar challenges.
"This is also where Jewish tradition and democracy recognize that ethics are not enough and the there is a need for rules. According to the Talmud, 'It is not the mouse that steals but the hole that does so', meaning you cannot blame the mouse for entering through the hole because this is the nature of the mouse, but the hole through which it entered is culpable and man must seal it.
"The Takana forum, as a vital and important organization, calls for setting rules and boundaries in various fields which are usually implemented with integrity and success, but at times come with serious failures that hurt the public. We see that one of the noticeable findings in the survey is that most of the citizens of Israel are against showing favoritism to rabbis and people of status, and as the verse goes: 'Do not show favoritism to the great' (Leviticus 19). And indeed, equality before the law is a fundamental principle in the Jewish and democratic state."